Kendrick Lamar was the man of the moment in 2015. To Pimp a Butterfly was a masterclass of conscious rap addressing the extreme racial discrimination that continues to play out in the US, and beyond. Untitled Unmastered isn’t a follow-up: it’s a collection of polished demos and experiments that are powerful and additive in their own right.
Queen Alone is the triumphant return of soultress Nicole Wray. Once the protégé of Missy Elliot, Wray is a singer whose talent has long gone unrecognised. Three years on from her collaboration with UK singer-songwriter Terri Walker, Lady – and 18 years since her last solo project, Make It Hot – Wray has come good yet again.
Superstar divas Rihanna and Beyoncé were playing a very public game of who could be the most provocative temptress, and still get their songs played on the radio, for the a good few years. That’s the way it seemed at least, what with all the flesh on display in their music videos and other controversial moments, all of which prompted tea-sipping elitists and defends-of-taste to decrying them both.
By now, most us are familiar with the Barbadian queen and her rumpy-pumpy reggae and steamy pop. She’s gone from an innocent island girl (‘SOS’) to a whip-loving dominatrix (‘S&M’). Anti is her eighth album, and sees the pop star crossover to the trap and alternative R&B sounds of the moment.
Soul goddess Nicole Wray is back. The singer – now known as Lady Wray – was last on the scene as part of Lady, a heaven-sent coupling with UK R&B singer-songwriter Terri Walker. Together these harmonic sisters released a phenomenal self-titled LP of old-school soul on Truth and Soul Records, which included standouts such as ‘Money’ and ‘Sweet Lady’.
Nowadays, Kanye the celebrity is far more of the focus than Kanye the musician. “I got rid of my phone so I can have air to create”, West tweeted on September 14, 2016. That may be the entertainment tweet of the year. For real. But this, nor West’s bizarre fashion line can change the fact that his seventh album, The Life of Pablo, is a muddled affair that lacks real direction.
Four years on from her emotional nadir, Norah Jones has returned with a collection of traditional jazz standards in the form of Day Breaks: an album that won’t surprise you, but will comfort you all the same.
Alicia Keys’ sixth album, Here, is an unexpected masterwork. Quite unlike her previous release, Girl on Fire, it is an album infused with rhythm, creativity and purpose not heard since her earliest albums. And it’s also one of this year’s must-hear releases.
The ska-influenced Chicago rock of Wild Belle was truly something to adore when their debut, Isles, arrived in 2013. The combination of smooth vocals and psychedelic slow jams from the brother and sister group was delicious. On Dreamland, the duo has gone even more experimental, producing a fierce follow-up that channels the musical grandeur of Firefly composer Greg Edmonson and singer Paloma Faith in one place.